The origins of the war on woke can be traced to the decline of political “isms” shaping political discourse, resulting in the growing popularity of rhetorical performances that draw on “deeper societal cultural-ideological themes” to dehistoriciz[e] naturalizations of contingent contemporary conceptions of types of persons” (Finlayson 478). The success of woke as a performative claim to authenticity can be proven with its very inability to escape the classification of itself as such by becoming the means by which such authenticity is produced, measured, and valued. Disidentification from woke constitutes the uncontaminated normative essence of western culture, politics, society, and art, so does not have to demonstrate its credentials to intellectual, artistic, or ethical fidelity beyond its autonomous claims to authentic representations of a majoritarian position of what is presented as a naturally occurring and self-sustains system of knowledge production. A further iteration of the war on woke’s discursive power can be seen when we consider Judith Butler’s contention that performativity dissimulates the norms and conventions that codify this majority in and through discourse (Butler xxi). Dissimulating the history of oppression against marginalised identities – which, in the contemporary context, is overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) directed at transgender, non-binary and queer people – enables the reactionary right to present themselves as defenders of “the last vestiges of traditional values and an older social order” (Williams 192). Williams cites her argument within the discourse of the Enlightenment story of progress, a liberal telos characterised as scientific rationalism and expressed in the language of universalism and secularization (Hall 118). Thus, we can see how expressions of non-solidarity with anything deemed as woke “demonstrates fidelity to a political way of life under attack” (Titley 82).
Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. Routledge, 2011
Finlayson, Alan. “Performing Political Ideologies”. The Oxford Handbook of Politics and Performance, edited by Shina Rai, Mulija Gluhovic, Silvija Jestrovic and Michael Saward. Oxford University Press, 2021
Hall, Stuart. The Fateful Triangle: Race, Ethnicity, Nation. Harvard University Press, 2017
Titley, Gavin. Is Free Speech Racist? Polity, 2020
Williams, Joanna. How Woke Won: The Elitist Movement that Threatens Democracy, Tolerance and Reason.Spiked, 2022